Singing, dancing, poetry—even animals. Events are nothing new to the University of Minnesota Medical School, but this celebration is as unique as it is special. Hundreds of people gathered at Northrop Auditorium for the Medical School’s Service of Gratitude. The annual event, now in its 23rd year, is hosted by students to recognize donors of the Anatomy Bequest Program.

"This evening we honor the individuals whose generosity has extended beyond life," said Dr. Brooks Jackson, Dean of the Medical School and Vice President of Health Sciences. "As an academic health center, we rely on philanthropic contributions to help achieve our missions. We are often the recipients of grants, endowments, and scholarships, but there is truly no greater gift received than the one we have gathered to pay homage."

Whole body donation supports high-quality education for future health professionals and continued advancements in medical care through research. The Medical School’s Service of Gratitude is the largest event of its type in the world.

“Academic Health Center students, faculty, clinicians, researchers and all health care consumers in the state are beneficiaries of these gifts,” said Jackson. “Their impact is far reaching and deeply important.”

Illumination was the theme of this year’s celebration, which featured a special light tribute led by Jackson. Poetry, a photo memorial, and numerous song and dance performances, put on by medical and occupational therapy students, followed this ceremony. The Medical School's Anatomy Bequest Program plays a critical role in educating future practitioners and is essential to groundbreaking research that identifies causes, treatments, and cures. Additionally, it helps clinicians understand how to perform new surgical techniques.

"I want you to understand who these donors are to us today: they’re our first patients, our biggest supporters, our toughest teachers, and our guiding light for the human body," said Jackson Baril. "But I still don’t understand: What in the world compelled them to be this light for me after their death? I still don't know for sure, but maybe you do. What I do know is that their gift wasn’t just for me, or just for us as students. They did it for every patient I will have for many years to come and every student I will teach, a light that will replete through generations."

New this year, families were provided with an opportunity to engage with those benefitting so greatly from the donations.

"Our researchers, educators, and students jumped at the opportunity to be part of this event," said Angela McArthur, Director of the Anatomy Bequest Program. "They feel engaging with the loved ones of the donors about their gift is a real honor."

In addition, dogs and rabbits from the University's PAWS program were incorporated into the celebration for those in need of the calming companionship of service animals.

“A light from your world is helping to illuminate ours,” said McArthur. “We are appreciative, honored, and humbled by these precious gifts. We are truly grateful for your loved ones and your support of their decision to donate.”